tv MSNBC Live With Katy Tur MSNBC January 23, 2018 11:00am-12:00pm PST
breaking news now, right now on msnbc, we want to take you to the oval office, where just moments ago, the president addressed, well, addressed some of the questions about jeff sessions. take a listen. >> nope. he's going to do a good job. >> thanks, everyone. >> we're looking at it. we're looking at a lot of things. >> reporter: are you concerned about [ inaudible ]? >> let's see how it all works out. >> reporter: are you concerned about [ inaudible ]? >> thank you all very much. >> thank you. thanks, everyone. thank you. >> there will be a trade war, by the way. there will only be stock increases for the companies that are in this country and that's what happened today. if you look at solar and if you look at the washing machine
companies, that's really what happened today. you're going to have people getting jobs again and we're going to make our own product again. >> this is the president talking about a new tariff on washing machines and solar panels but in that, what we call a spray with reporters in the oval office, donald trump is asked about the two big stories today. number one, that jeff sessions was interviewed by special counsel robert mueller and number two, that there are reports out there that jeff sessions and the administration was pressuring fbi director christopher wray to remove a number of people in the fbi, including acting or including deputy director andrew mccabe. there is also a report from axios that christopher wray was going to resign over that if the pressure continued. nbc news has not confirmed that reporting. right now, we are rewinding a little bit in order to get the president's response. once we are done rewinding we will bring it to you in a moment. spoiler alert, he says he's not
concerned about what jeff sessions told the fbi. he also says christopher wray did not threaten to resign. let's go right to kristen welker, in the white house. kristen, the president is trying to push back on this, obviously, but these two stories are pretty big. jeff sessions, a member of his cabinet, being interviewed by the special counsel. jeff sessions, who the president did not want to recuse himself, being interviewed by the special counsel and also, this idea that the administration is trying to meddle in the fbi, trying to remove agents within the fbi as the fbi is investigating the president. >> reporter: couple of points. let me pick up on your first point about jeff sessions. we know that he was interviewed last week. it's not a surprise that he was interviewed, but it is notable. of course, he is the first cabinet member to be interviewed by the special counsel. i asked the president if he's concerned about what jeff sessions told the special
counsel. he said no. i'm not concerned about it. i also asked him if he had discussed the conversation with his attorney general. he said no. i thought it was very notable, not only did i ask him if the fbi director christopher wray threatened to resign, he said no to that, then expressed his confidence in his fbi director, but i then said do you have concerns about the senior leadership at the fbi, because more broadly, he has been attacking some quarters of the fbi on twitter, and in shouted questions. he really declined the chance to go on the attack in that instance, saying let's see how it all plays out. i thought that was very notable, too. this is a much more disciplined message than some of what we have heard in the past when it comes to the fbi. this morning he woke up tweeting about the fbi, for example. so the president very measured in his remarks today, which of course initially were focused on trade, solar panels and tariffs and as he said, creating
american jobs. but again, responding to questions about all of the headlines of the day. >> here's the president a moment ago. >> -- almost more than anything else, jobs. we are bringing business back to the united states for the first time in many, many years. many, many decades, really, and we are very proud of it. that's why the stock market is reacting the way it is. thank you all very much. very proud of this. thank you. >> thanks, everyone. >> reporter: did you talk to him about it? >> no, i didn't. i'm not at all concerned. thank you very much. no, he didn't at all. he did not even a little bit. nope. he's going to do a good job. >> thanks, everyone. >> we are looking at it. we're looking at a lot of things. >> reporter: are you concerned about leadership at the fbi? >> let's see how it works out. >> the president not worried about jeff sessions talking to special counsel mueller, saying that christopher wray, the fbi
director, didn't even a little bit offer to resign. as kristen welker was saying, a little more disciplined from the president just now, but that again is just one moment from the president. earlier today he was tweeting about the credibility of the fbi. we should also note what the white house has said in response to these reports that christopher wray was being pressured to remove andrew mccabe. the white house has said in a statement the president has enormous respect for the thousands of rank and file fbi agents who make up the world's most professional and talented law enforcement agency. he believes politically motivated senior leaders including former director comey and others he empowered have tainted the agency's reputation for unbiased pursuit of justice. nbc's first read this morning wants to point out that last line right there, that he believes politically motivated senior leaders including former director comey and others he empowered have tainted the agency's reputation for unbiased
pursuit of justice. fbi or nbc first read says that is essentially the white house openly confirming that it wants the fbi to purge agents from within the fbi as the fbi is investigating the president. they got into a whole lot of trouble with this when donald trump decided to fire james comey. there's now an open investigation into the president and into the white house about the potential ties or coordination with russia and also whether or not they are trying to obstruct justice. i wonder how this is going to play into the special counsel's investigation. natasha bertrand is with us. you have been following this investigation. to see the white house say yeah, you know, we don't want some of those fbi agents there, is kind of a big deal. >> yeah, it is, especially because like you said, they are investigating whether or not the president obstructed justice and colluded with russia during the campaign so for them to kind of dip their hands in the bureau and say we want to kind of pick and choose which agents are investigating the president and
which aren't, is really problematic for a number of reasons. i think that the reason why mueller wants to ask sessions and sit down with sessions and interview him is just because of sessions' large role during the campaign. he was the head of the foreign policy team, he met with george papadopolous, he met several times with sergey kislyak. of course mueller will want to know what did you talk about in your office in september, what did you talk about to him earlier that year at the mayflower hotel and why did you leave these meetings out of your testimony when you spoke to congress. what about them did you just forget, why was it so easy for you to forget your meetings with kislyak. so sessions of course then, you also have the obstruction element where he's going to ask why did you cooperate, why did you want james comey gone. >> hold on. i'm getting a lot of breaking news in my ear. the "new york times" is report right now that james comey, the fbi director, was interviewed last year by special counsel
mueller, asked about the conversations that fbi director comey had with president trump, the conversations which would include, obviously, michael flynn, which would include this question of loyalty that donald trump was demanding of james comey, as james comey testified in front of congress. big news. also big that we are only hearing about it right now. >> absolutely. yeah. interesting this didn't come out sooner if he was interviewed last year. >> makes you realize, the special counsel is probably doing a lot of things we honestly have no idea about. >> right. and they don't leak. that's also very clear. but of course, mueller is probably going to be asking comey or probably ask comey for the memos he wrote contemporaneously after he had these meetings with the president in which trump asked him, you know, for loyalty and asked him to drop the investigation into michael flynn. so it's very likely that comey gave these documents to the special counsel that he described his conversations with trump and that mueller is using
it or has been using it to further this obstruction inquiry. >> let's read a portion of this "new york times" report. the interview focused on a series of memos, he wrote about his interactions with mr. trump that unnerved mr. comey. in one memo, mr. comey said that mr. trump had asked him to end the fbi's investigation into the former national security adviser michael t. flynn. after the president's request was disclosed, the deputy attorney general rod j. ros rosenstein appointed mr. mueller as special counsel to lead the russia investigation and examine whether the president obstructed justice. that brings us basically up to speed to today. we also have with us barbara mcquade. barbara, i'm interested in learning a little bit more about what exactly could be going on inside the special counsel's investigation. i mean, you are a former u.s. attorney. you have an idea about how these investigations work. it is remarkable how secretive this investigation has been, how
little has leaked out. what is your take? >> well, that's the way it's supposed to work. it's supposed to be done in secret to protect the rights of the accused so that they are not, their reputations are not stained during the investigation, and to protect the integrity of the investigation. if one witness knows what another witness is saying, it might cause him to tailor lis testimony in a certain way. i give robert mueller and his team a lot of credit for keeping things quiet. but not surprising that he would want to talk to jim comey. i'm sure jim comey ran in the door to tell his story, the same story he told to the senate intelligence committee in june, and not surprising that they would want to talk to jeff sessions, both about his involvement in the campaign and contacts with russia, and about the firing of jim comey and what obstruction of justice may or may not have occurred because he had a front row seat to all of that. not surprising that both men have been interviewed and we don't know much about the details of what they have been asked, though we can certainly speculate. >> how close do you think this is getting to the president? how quickly or how soon could we
see the special counsel request an interview with the president of the united states? >> you know, i'm not sure because i think on the one hand, you have two pieces to this investigation. there is the overarching russia connections piece which involves international money laundering. it strikes me as the kind of investigation that could take many, many more months. then you have this very discreet piece of obstruction of justice with a very finite cast of characters. that piece could be nearing completion. but then my guess is he's probably only going to get one shot at interviewing president trump. so do you do it now when you are perhaps reaching the end on the obstruction piece, or do you wait until you know more because you want to ask informed questions and have all the records and talk to the other people before you interview president trump. >> hold on one second. we have michael schmidt, the "new york times" reporter who just broke this news about comey, and also broke the news about jeff sessions earlier today. first off, congratulations on your reporting, michael. nice work. what more can you tell us? >> well, in many ways, it was expected that mueller was going to want to speak with comey.
comey is sort of at the heart of the reason that mueller exists. comey is the one that wrote these memos about his interactions with trump and then when they were disclosed, it was revealed that trump had asked comey to end the investigation of mike flynn, deputy attorney general appointed mueller. so there are sort of two big buckets mueller is looking at. one of them is obstruction, did the president try to obstruct the russia investigation. the other one is russian meddling in the election. in terms of the first bucket, comey is the central player in that. >> michael, did we lose you? >> i'm still here. can you hear me? >> let's talk about obstruction. today we have the news, first reported by axios, not confirmed by nbc news, but this idea that the white house, jeff sessions, are pressuring christopher wray, the now fbi director, to remove people inside the fbi. problems with some of that
reporting, because andrew mccabe can't be fired. he is a career agent so he just can't be fired willy-nilly. there's got to be a cause there. but the "washington post" is confirming at least a portion of it saying that it does seem like this administration is trying to put pressure on the fbi director. we have seen it frankly publicly, michael, with the president's tweets saying andrew mccabe shouldn't be there. how much is that going to factor into this case of potential obstruction? >> i'm not sure. i'm not sure what the president's sort of overarching tweets and criticisms of the fbi means in the russia investigation. i think politically, a lot of people find it unseemly and are very bothered by it, but at the end of the day i'm not sure how much that factors into what mueller's looking at. mueller is really focused on the comey firing, the flight in which the president was flying back to the united states over the summer and helped produce a
statement that was misleading about a meeting in 2016 that his son had had with russians. i'm not sure how much of the mueller investigation is actually focused on the president's continued effort to influence the fbi. >> remind us of the relationship between james comey and special counsel robert mueller. >> well, sometimes it's made out to be that they are like best friends and that's not true. they are people that worked together at the justice department under the bush administration. comey was deputy attorney general and mueller was the fbi director. they worked hand in hand. they sort of see law enforcement the same way. these are not guys that are going out playing golf together and hanging out. i have never seen any indication of that. they have similar backgrounds and run in the same circles but they are not best of friends. excuse me, i'm on the train. >> don't worry. we appreciate you calling in. let's talk a little about sessions. you broke the story today about jeff sessions being interviewed
by the special counsel. no surprise there. jeff sessions had to recuse himself from the russia investigation. he was part of the transition, he's testified in front of congress a number of times that first he didn't recall having meetings with russia, then got caught in that and then had to explain why he wouldn't necessarily recall a meeting with ambassador kislyak. what sort of focus is robert mueller putting on jeff sessions, and what could he be learning from jeff sessions? how key is he a witness? >> he's very key in two regards. one is that he did have interactions with the russians so he had some idea of what the interaction, the meetings with them were like. he met with kislyak, then got himself into some hot water when he didn't disclose that to congress. he understands how the campaign operated, he understands the russians' efforts to communicate with them and what those meant. he also understands what the president thought and believed when he tried to fire comey, in may, and he knows about the
president's continued efforts to fire him and get rid of him. the president has complained openly repeatedly about sessions since he recused himself from the russia investigation and has harped on that and at one point, even asked sessions to resign back in may. >> from your reporting and your sense of how things are going, who is potentially next? >> i don't know. that's a question last week it came out that bannon had been subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury. now it looks like mueller will allow him to do an interview. you know, we are continuing to check off the number of folks. there is not a lot of folks left who haven't met with mueller that are key to this story. so that's sort of all building towards an interview with the president, which the president's lawyers are still working out with mueller what that would look like, how that would be structured, what the topics would be. >> michael schmidt of the "new york times," great reporting. thank you so much for calling in. >> thanks for having me. again, just to recap, michael schmidt of the "new york times" has first reported that
the fbi director james comey, former fbi director, was interviewed by special counsel robert mueller's team late last year, focusing on those memos, those contemporaneous memos he wrote about his interactions with donald trump in the first weeks of the administration. specifically, when donald trump, according to james comey, asked him to be easy essentially on michael flynn, donald trump's national security adviser, for a time. nbc news has now confirmed that, that that interview did take place. again, the focus of the interview was on the memos he wrote about his interaction with the president. michael schmidt also reporting and nbc news has confirmed as well that jeff sessions was interviewed by the special counsel as well. two major interviews now by the special counsel. this comes on the heels of steve bannon getting subpoenaed by the special counsel. it now looks like now, instead of bannon testifying in front of
a grand jury, that he will be interviewed by special counsel's team. we have ken dilanian with us. you just confirmed this reporting by michael schmidt. what more do you know? >> that's right. so a source close to comey telling us in fact, he did sit down with mueller's team late last year, and of course, ever since james comey testified to congress in dramatic fashion about the memos he wrote detailing what he thought were troubling interactions and conversations with the president of the united states, you knew he was going to be a key witness in the mueller investigation, particularly along the lines of obstruction of justice, because after all, the firing of comey is at the heart of that line of inquiry, as are donald trump's alleged requests to comey to -- for his loyalty and to go easy on mike flynn. recall that comey says there was a private interaction where trump asked him if he could see his way to dropping the flynn
investigation. we now know that flynn was under investigation for lying to the fbi. so that is a crucial issue here in the mueller investigation. james comey is an important witness and we now know he's talked to the mueller team. >> so we have james comey, we have jeff sessions, steve bannon coming up. who else from the president's inner circle is going to be next for this? >> well, you know, we were going down the list today and a lot of the president's inner circle has already been interviewed. according to our reporting and the reporting of others, reince priebus, sean spicer, jared kushner has talked to the mueller team. that doesn't preclude further conversations, but really, the big names remaining as far as we know, again, this is a secret process, right, but donald trump jr., we don't believe has been interviewed. the vice president of the united states and the president himself. >> we are going to see if the president himself comes up soon. we have chuck rosenberg joining us now. he used to be chief of staff of james comey. chuck, your former colleague
interviewed by the special counsel. what was he telling robert mueller? >> well, ken is exactly right. the memos jim wrote after his days with the president are mighty important to bob mueller's team. so the mueller team is going to want to go through them line by line, word by word. what did the president say, was anyone else there, what did you say in response, what did you do, if anything. it's really important for the prosecutors to essentially validate the comey memos, because the memos are at the heart of some of the most important conversations in this case. >> how do they validate the memos? can you do more than he said/he said? you have james comey writing those contemporaneous reports, saying the president said one thing and you have the president of the united states coming out and saying i absolutely never said that, there are tapes, james comey responding obviously oh, lordy, i hope there are tapes. so far we haven't found out that there are any tapes of that meeting, but if there are not, what does robert mueller do with he said/he said versus the
former fbi director and the president of the united states? >> well, you certainly can corroborate it and here's how it would work. you correctly, katy, identified that he said/he said problem as between comey and the president, but what if the president spoke to seven other people about his conversation with jim comey? who else did he talk to and what did he say to them? so the comey memos and the comey interview are only a starting point for bob mueller. it might turn out to be in the end that the president didn't talk to anyone else about it, but i tend to think that's probably not the case, and so these are leads. these are the questions that you not only ask comey, but that you also ask the president and everyone else with whom the president may have discussed the jim comey firing. >> these are two big developments today. we are finding out comey was interviewed and we are finding out jeff sessions was interviewed. those are some key witnesses. >> yeah, they sure are, but neither of those things should surprise us. here's why.
the reason that attorney general sessions recused himself was because he was a witness, so now that they have talked to him as a witness, we are just learning it so it may be surprising to us, but from a prosecutor's vantage point, that's exactly what you do with important witnesses, talk to them. so that doesn't surprise me at all. in the same way, the fact that they sat down with jim comey and asked him about the memos he wrote is not surprising. i would be surprised if they didn't talk to him. >> for the critics out there who will say that james comey and robert mueller are good buds, this was obviously going to be an interview that was easy for james comey and they are going to be in cahoots in order to take down this president because there are those out there who will definitely say that, what would your response be as somebody who knows the men? >> well, i worked for both of them, so it is an easy interview
because telling the truth is always easy. there is nothing to be caught up on, there's nothing to trip over when you tell the truth. in terms of them being as you say, buds, they're not. they have a good professional relationship. they have mutual respect for one another. they are not friends. i think jim comey mentioned that maybe he and bob mueller saw each other socially in all the years they have known one another, once or twice. so it's easy to tell the truth. it will be an easy interview for that reason. >> hold on for me one second. i want to bring in devlin barrett, national security reporter for "the washington post." the other story today, the other big story today, is this news that the white house, the administration, jeff sessions, may have put pressure on fbi director christopher wray, the new fbi director, to remove agents within the fbi that they didn't feel were fair or impartial. people that they felt were still loyal to james comey, among
those, andrew mccabe, the deputy director of the fbi, somebody that donald trump himself has gone after repeatedly and has accused of being basically a democratic operative. bring us up to speed with what you know so far about those potential interactions. >> right. well, there's been pressure building on the fbi for months, both from the white house and from conservatives in congress, and frankly, from outside groups to try and do something to the deputy director, andrew mccabe, and there's no secret that the president clearly dislikes andrew mccabe, and that dates back to the election. and you know, we have reported that mccabe plans to retire when he reaches his full eligibility in march. so there's this weird sort of fight about someone who is frankly already on his way out, but i think it speaks to the intensity of the dislike that the president has for this investigation, for this entire
issue, and frankly, the desire on the part of some folks in the white house and some folks on the hill to take more control of the fbi, which they view as out of control or antagonistic to them. >> how does obstruction factor into this? does it? >> into the mccabe piece? you know, i think the mccabe piece may end up not factoring into the obstruction, but it definitely speaks to sort of the frankly terrible relationship that exists right now between the white house and the fbi, and in some ways between the justice department and the fbi, which is a bizarre situation. this whole notion that the fbi director is basically fighting behind closed doors with attorney general to keep people on staff for another month or two who are probably going to be leaving in a matter of days or weeks is a bizarre thing to be fighting about at the highest levels of the government. >> did he offer to resign, christopher wray?
>> you know, i haven't spoken to anyone who says that happened. proving the negative is always a little different than saying what did happen. what i am told is that there is a real dynamic here of chris wray resisting outside pressure both from the white house and to some degree, definitely from attorney general jeff sessions, to make changes at the upper echelons of the fbi. he has resisted doing that on anything but his own schedule. >> devlin, thank you so much for waiting around with us. appreciate your reporting. chuck, i want to go back to you and talk about this piece of it. i know there's a lot of moving parts. apologies if it feels like we are jumping around. we have james comey being interviewed by the special counsel, jeff sessions being interviewed by the special counsel, then this reporting devlin just laid out that there's pressure from the administration on christopher wray to remove some agents within the fbi. when you see stories like that, what is your reaction? >> well, first, i find it a
little bit hard to believe that chris would have threatened to resign. let me explain that. both having held a high government office and knowing lots of folks who have held high government offices, you can't threaten to resign every time somebody asks you to do something you don't want to do. that happens 13 times a day in government. you push back, you argue, you fight for your position, but you only threaten to resign when the stakes are unbelievably high. >> is it normal, though, to face this kind of pressure from an administration to remove agents? >> thno, that's abnormal. that's exactly why chris would have pushed back and that's precisely what he should have been doing. it's wrong. maybe at some point chris decides he has no choice but to resign, but the notion that you would threaten to resign sort of in the ordinary course of business just strikes me as a bridge too far. i think what chris is doing here is the right thing. he's standing by the people in whom he believes and who have helped him run the fbi.
let me add a personal note. i worked with andy mccabe. he's wise and smart, which are two different things. he's an extraordinarily principled guy and chris is well served having him by his side. >> one last note on this story. the optics of it, the administration trying to remove agents as the fbi is investigating the administration. >> troubling, obviously troubling. now, there's historically been a wall between the white house and the fbi for good reason. you can see when you breach the wall and it seems like it's being breached regularly now, the ramifications of that. so to me, if you put chris in place to run the fbi and you have confidence in him, you should also have confidence in the people that he believes he needs to help him run the fbi. andy mccabe is foremost among them. let them do their work. >> so this investigation has been going on for over a year,
this investigation between the trump administration and whether or not they had any coordination or collusion with the russians, but also potentially any obstruction, and james comey testified about the memos that he wrote right after meeting with donald trump, his contemporaneous memos of his interactions with donald trump. here's what he said last summer, we believe last summer to congress. >> i created records after conversations that i think i did it after each of our nine conversations. if i didn't, i did it for nearly all of them, especially the ones that were substantive. i knew that there might come a day when i would need a record of what had happened not just to defend myself, but to defend the fbi and our integrity as an institution and the independence of our investigative function. that's what made this so difficult is it was a combination of circumstances, subject matter and the particular person. >> so he went out to his car,
left trump tower, went to his car, wrote these memos on the computer, he did that after every meeting, after the oval office, he went out and wrote a memo of the interactions between himself and the president. that testimony was from june 8th of last year, my apologies. everything kind of starts to bleed in together in terms of timing on what's been going on. i want to bring in now matt miller, former chief spokesman at the justice department. he ois tis on the phone with us. the news that james comey has been interviewed by the special counsel, not surprising, but certainly still a big piece of news. >> yeah. i think that's right. look, it's inevitable since the day jim comey was fired and bob mueller was appointed, that the two of them would eventually speak about the former director's interactions with president trump and the many times that he asked him to intervene in the investigation, the times he asked him to back off the investigation into mike flynn. i think jim comey is not the
only witness in a possible obstruction of justice case against the president, but he's without a doubt the most important one. >> who else? >> well, i think jeff sessions is one. rod rosenstein is one. we know the president met with both of them the day before he fired jim comey and we presume, explained to both of them his reasoning for doing so. i think other people who are close to the president at the time, reince priebus, jared kushner, steve bannon, anyone who would have heard the president explain why it was he was firing jim comey and especially, any dissatisfaction with comey's handling of the russia investigation, especially if he ever said i want that investigation stopped. anyone in the white house who would have witnessed the president and can talk to his state of mind at the time he made those decisions would be a key witness for director mueller. >> do we still have barbara mcquade with us? sounds like no. matt, i will ask you this question. if you were putting together an
argument in order to corroborate james comey's memos, who would you be interviewing? how would you be doing that? >> i would want to talk to all the people who worked for jim comey, who we know he sent those memos to and that he had conversations with. he testified to this when he spoke before the senate intelligence committee. we know he shared his memos with his chief of staff, with his general counsel, jim baker, with others in the fbi, and talked to them right after his meetings with the president. those will be contemporaneous accounts. to the extent the president disputes jim comey's take on events, as he has at points in the past on twitter and in interviews, those contemporaneous witnesses will go a long way to corroborating what comey said. >> matt, how fine of a line is this? we are living in a highly partisan environment right now, where every move is scrutinized through a partisan lens. is this person a fan of the president, does he have an axe
to grind with the president, or is he somebody that would likely be defending the president against all cost. how does a special counsel, how do they convince the public that what they did is fair, their results are impartial, when you are dealing with an american electorate who is going to view this on whether or not it is the outcome that they want to see? >> well, i guess part of that is whether you believe there's something known as objective truth or not. i think bob mueller and his team will believe there is something known as objective truth. they will try to figure out what that truth is and if they believe the president behaved appropriately, they will make that conclusion known. if they believe he behaved inappropriately, they will make that conclusion known, probably in some kind of report to congress, and they will rely as prosecutors do for the facts and the evidence to speak for themselves. i don't think you will see them engage in a lot of the kind of
partisan rancor and over the top stuff you see out of the white house. they will behave with dignity and allow kind of their work to speak for itself and if the evidence is strong enough, you have to have faith in the american people that ultimately, they will believe it. >> let's go to the white house where nbc's jeff bennett is standing by. reporters were in the oval office a few minutes ago asking the president what he thought about jeff sessions talking to special counsel mueller, what he thought about this christopher wray reporting. he brushed both of those things off. reporters were not able to ask him about james comey because that broke right after they left. have you been able to get in touch with anybody within the white house or from donald trump's legal team to get a comment on any of this? >> reporter: well, we have reached out to the president's lawyer, ty cobb. i will tell you that ty cobb typically does not weigh in on these sorts of revelations. earlier today he put out a statement when we learned that jeff sessions had met with the special counsel, and he said out of respect for the process, we won't say anything. there you see it there. out of respect for the special counsel and his process and
because of the privacy obligations we owe to potential or actual witnesses, the white house does not comment on witness appearances before the special counsel. so not a whole lot substantively to work with there. but look, president trump has repeatedly and publicly criticized james comey for in the president's view, prematurely exonerating hillary clinton in the fbi's probe of her use of the private e-mail server, and trump advisers back in may, when the president fired james comey, said that he did it because he thought james comey was too harsh on hillary clinton, only to have the president contradict that line and say that he fired comey because of the actions he took relative to the investigation between the trump campaign and russia. so that's kind of where we are. the big question we are focused on now with the revelations that jeff sessions and james comey have both met with the special counsel is what does it mean for the president's potential sit-down with the special counsel. as we reported, the president's
lawyers met with representatives of the special counsel team in late december to talk logistics about the time and place and about the format, whether it would be an actual in-person meeting or whether the president would fill out a questionnaire. those are questions that we might get some answers to in just the next half hour or so or actually, later in the day this afternoon when we have that white house press briefing. >> we will be standing by to find out what sarah huckabee sanders says. it's important to remind everybody who has been interviewed by the special counsel and who has not. from our count at nbc news, we have former campaign staffer sam clovis, rick gates, george papadopolous, michael flynn, jared kushner, who was in the administration, jeff sessions, who was in the administration, reince priebus, who was part of the transition, then in the administration, now out of the administration, paul manafort, who was formerly the campaign chairman for a short time, christopher steele, who compiled that dossier, sean spicer, who
was in the transition, in the administration, and now is out of the administration. you can see this graphic. there's also hope hicks as well and rick gates. who has not been interviewed, that's what we are focusing on now, there is vice president mike pence. a question mark about whether or not he would be questioned. steve bannon is awaiting questioning. that's going to happen at some point. donald trump jr., don't know when he might talk to the special counsel or if he might talk to the special counsel. you got to imagine he will be, though, considering that june 2016 meeting he had with the russian lawyer that offered dirt on hillary clinton and his response, love it. also, donald trump himself, the president of the united states. barbara mcquade is back with us, former u.s. attorney in michigan and msnbc contributor. barbara, does it look like this investigation is not winding down necessarily, but moving
towards its conclusion? >> i think you have to look at the two pieces of the investigation. the investigation regarding the overarching russia scheme, did russia meddle in our election strikes me as one that might take many, many months to unfold. it involves perhaps complex money laundering investigations, offshore bank accounts. that could take a long time. then you have this other investigation into obstruction of justice with a smaller cast of characters, really just a few events that occurred over a short period of time. that one might be winding down. so it may be that we see that one come to fruition, maybe there's a charge on that while the other one is pending. but it may be that robert mueller wants to conclude both of those investigations at the same time. i think that remains to be seen. >> what about the scope of this investigation? there are republicans out there, friends of donald trump, donald trump himself, who have said that getting into the finances is a bridge too far, a red line. this is not what this investigation was supposed to
be, this is an investigation into whether or not the trump campaign coordinated with russia. >> well, i don't see how any responsible prosecutor can ever investigate a case like this without looking at the finances. whenever you are a prosecutor, one of the first things you do in any kind of white collar case is do a complete financial workup of the people who are the targets of the investigation. i want to know all their assets, their debts, where their money goes and what money is coming into them because it tells you many things. it tells you about who they are affiliated with, it suggests motives. if for example people are in great debt to others, it could provide a motive to act in certain ways. if you are receiving the benefits of funds, it could also cause you to act in different kind of ways. i don't see how robert mueller's team could complete the investigation into russia without doing a very intensive financial investigation as well. >> so finances on the table, it seems. we are getting reports of potentially deutsche bank
working with the sfespecial counsel. donald trump doesn't want his finances being pried into. you look at the campaign and at donald trump and the business relations he's had and the business he was in, real estate, or if you look at don jr. telling a real estate conference that a lot of the money that is in their buildings comes from russia, it's hard not to look into the finances to see if there was any quid pro quo, any payments, any connections to that country, especially since the president has not released his tax returns. he hasn't shown or proven that he has no financial ties to russia. he said it but we haven't seen the proof. >> right. i think this is far more fundamental to mueller's investigation than most people are acknowledging. this is exactly what he indicted paul manafort and rick gates on. he was following the money from the very beginning. when it comes to trying to figure out whether russia has any leverage on trump that would have compelled the trump
campaign to then coordinate with the russians because they felt like they really had no choice, because they were kind of being held by kompromat the russians had on them, investigating whether donald trump has a history of business relations with russia is extremely important to determining why did the russians interfere to try to get him elected. is it because they thought they had a friend in donald trump, because they thought they had so much leverage over him in terms of his past financial dealings there, that they could essentially blackmail him once he was in office to get him to do their bidding. we have teen the relationship has actually been a little more rocky than that. since trump came into office there have been numerous instances where moscow and d.c. have kind of disagreed and we saw the sanctions were imposed, but ultimately, this is something that mueller is going to want to look at and it's why we saw that he has begun to ask deutsche bank for these records, because this is ultimately at the center of whether or not donald trump has any kind of, you know, relationship with the russians has not been disclosed.
>> deutsche bank was one of the only banks that would work with donald trump after all of the years of bankruptcies and all of the issues that he had with real estate in new york and new jersey. natasha, stick with us. still a whole lot of smoke, not any fire so far when it comes to the russia investigation, but the special counsel has interviewed james comey, interviewed jeff sessions, will be interviewing steve bannon. big question, when is it going to be the president's turn? stay with us. we'll be right back. shawn evans: it's 6 am. 40 million americans are waking up to a gillette shave. and at our factory in boston, 1,200 workers are starting their day building on over a hundred years of heritage, craftsmanship and innovation. today we're bringing you america's number one shave at lower prices every day. putting money back in the pockets of millions of americans. as one of those workers, i'm proud to bring you gillette quality for less, because nobody can beat the men and women of gillette. gillette - the best a man can get.
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our judgment, as i recall, was that he was very close to and inevitably going to recuse himself for a variety of reasons. we also were aware of facts that i can't discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a russia-related investigation problematic. >> that was former fbi director james comey testifying in front of capitol hill about his firing by the trump administration and his interactions with donald trump. now we are learning both men, jeff sessions, have spoken with robert mueller. jeff sessions and james comey. a source tells nbc news the former fbi director was
interviewed by robert mueller's team late last year, the focus, comey's memos about his interactions with president trump. jeff sessions, meanwhile, also spoke to the special counsel's team last week. let's go back to nbc's ken dilanian. ken, this is all breaking as we have been on the air, but bring us back up to speed. james comey being interviewed, jefr sessi jeff sessions being interviewed, how do they tie together? >> that's right. in some ways this is not very surprising news. it's obvious to anyone who has been following these investigations, even a bit, that these men would be key witnesses in this robert mueller special counsel investigation, but it's nonetheless deeply significant. in comey's case, it really shows that mueller is continuing to pursue this question of obstruction of justice, because the heart of what comey can talk about are these memos that he wrote detailing what he believed were troubling interactions between him and the president, where the president made inappropriate requests, what comey considered inappropriate requests, including to go easy on mike flynn at a time when mike flynn was under
investigation for allegedly lying to the fbi. now, what's really important here is that donald trump has denied doing that, so if mueller is able to corroborate these memos in any way by talking to other witnesses, people comey shared this with, it's going to raise the question for donald trump, why did he fail to tell the truth? so that he's a crucial witness on the obstruction case, and in terms of jeff sessions, he's a witness in both the question of collusion, trump campaign collusion with russia and the obstruction case. he was in the decision tree to fire james comey and can speak to donald trump's state of mind about why he fired comey. >> here's the thing. deputy attorney general rod rosenstein was also in that leadup to the firing of james comey. he was also drafting that letter for the reasons why donald trump could fire or should fire james comey. he has not recused himself. why is rod rosenstein not recused? >> we have not been able to get
a good answer on that from the justice department but many legal experts i talk to on a daily basis have said to me it's only a matter of time. rosenstein has to be interviewed, he has to tell what he knows about that crucial decision and what he knew about donald trump's state of mind and why the memo was drafted the way it was, and at the point that that happens, he will have to recuse himself from supervising the mueller investigation. after all, he approves the budget, he decides what directions mueller can and can't go in within reason so you are absolutely right, that decision many people believe is coming to a head. >> chuck rosenberg, barbara mcquade and frank felluzzi are with me as well. how can rod rosenstein still be overseeing this investigation if he's going to be eventually going to be interviewed by the special counsel and if he did have a hand in the firing of james comey? >> i think ken is spot-on in his analysis here. it's been a mystery to me for awhile now. i have had this happen when i was a u.s. attorney in eastern virginia, if there's a matter in which you are going to be a
witness, you can't supervise the case. i know that not every line in the law is that clear, but this one seems that clear to me. now, rod may be privy to stuff we just flat out don't know. but from where i sit, where i s a witness and he should recuse himself. >> frank, thanks for sticking around with us from the 1:00 p.m. hour. do you have an idea of why rod rosenstein would still be in the position he's in? >> i think chuck raises an interesting point and it may be the reason why rod has not yet been interviewed, they're saving this for timing purposes and perhaps -- perhaps the strategy to somehow wrap up one component of the special counsel investigation and then say that rod can move off of that supervision but i see this as a dilemma. he's becoming a fact witness. you'll recall that he received a draft letter on the firing of
comey and he revised it. he drafted it but when he was handed that letter he has -- he has testimony. he can tell us what was the tone, what did that letter look like before you changed it, what were you told to do with jim comey and termination and that makes him very much a fact witness that i see as a conflict here. >> just a reminder for our viewers, i know all of this stuff develops incremental and it can feel like a lot and it's hard to remember when things happened and how they happened but this all started to unfold back in 2016, december 29th is when the obama administration first announced those sanctions against russia in retaliation for what the u.s. officials characterized as interference into the 2016 election. january 6th, james comey, the fbi director at that time briefed donald trump about the intelligence community's assessment concerning russia's efforts to interfere with the election.
he then wrote a memo about it. january 20th, donald trump takes the oath of office. january 22nd, trump signals at comey at the white house for that kiss where he said, oh, there's jim, he's become more famous than me that kiss we've been replaying over and over again. january 24th, michael flynn is interviewed by the fbi about his conversations kislyak, the russian ambassador. january 26th, acting attorney general sally yates accompanied by an aide goes to the white house and tells don mcgahn that contrary to flynn's claims to the white house officials, sanctions had been discussed in the calls based on the monitoring of conversations by intelligence agencies. she warns the administration that flynn could be vulnerable to blackmail by russia. january 27th, mcgahn asked yates to come to the white house again to discuss the matter. yates testified that he did not indicate whether he had discussed the flynn situation
with any one else at the white house but white house press secretary sean spicer told reporters the president was immediately informed of the situation. january 27, trump and comey, that night donald trump and james comey have dinner at the white house but they disagree over who asked for the meeting. in comey's version, he says he was at the hoover building on the 27th of january for another event and spoke briefly with director comey. he mentioned to me the invitation he had with the president for dinner and that he was my characterization uneasy with it, both from a standpoint of the optic of compromising his independence and the independence of the fbi. that's from an interview with james clapper, former dni when he was on cnn in may. it goes on january positiveth, donald trump fires sally yates. donald trump had known for weeks that michael flynn had misled people within the white house.
march 30th, comey said trump called him. april 11th, comey said his last conversation with trump took place in his phone call. may 2nd, trump knocks comey on twitter. it makes me mildly nauseous that it makes me think we had some impact on the election. he wants to fire comey. may 9th, comey is fired. may 10th, trump meets with russian officials including lavrov and ambassador kislyak in the oval office. i just fired the head of the fbi according to a white house summary of the conversation. he was crazy, a real nut job, i faced great pressure because of russia. that's taken off. trump adds, i'm not under investigation. may 17, rosenstein appoints a special counsel robert mueller to oversee the russia probe and investigate any related matters such as obstruction of justice
and perjury. barbara, a long time line, a lot has happened. this has been going on now for a year. donald trump just celebrated his year in the white house. this russia investigation is not going away. >> no, it's not going away. i think all of the facts that you have just named shows why this is not a hoax. one of the things you mentioned is clip of jim comey providing testimony that has always made me very curious and now that comey and sessions have have both been interviewed and that is, why did james comey say that i knew from classified information that sessions continuing in this investigation would be problematic? the reason sessions recused himself, of course, was because he said i was involved in the campaign. i don't think it looks good for me to be investigating any case involving the presidential campaign. that wouldn't be a classified piece of information so i've always wondered what that piece is. we still don't know what it is but robert mueller does but
perhaps it leads him closer to understanding what the role of at least attorney general sessions was with respect to russian interference. >> how much pressure is jeff sessions under right now just interviewed by the special counsel. the president is not happy with him. is unhappy that he recused himself from this investigation, he is according to multiple reports putting pressure on the fbi director to remove some agents for the bureau, agents that they don't feel are -- the administration doesn't feel are fair or impartial to donald trump. that's a lot of pressure. >> it is. it's coming from every direction, from his boss, the president, from the public, from the special counsel, but, you know, what's the remedy if he were to resign, of course, that would mean that president trump could replace him and pick his own attorney general and this would be an attorney general presumably who is not recused from the russia investigation so now we have trump's hand picked attorney general supervising directly the mueller investigation instead of the
supervision of deputy attorney general rod rosenstein who's someone i'm very comfortable with. he's very professional. i know him. i think highly of his experience and his independence. if we instead have a new attorney general overseeing this investigation, i'm not sure we're better off. >> chuck, should we even be talking about whether or not donald trump could fire or try to remove jeff sessions and then fire rod rosenstein and go down the line to try and get robert mueller out? >> well, i don't know that he has to do all that to get robert mueller out. he has the authority that the -- he, the president has the authority that the attorney general has and so if the president wanted to fire robert mueller presumably he could do that on his own. but i think -- and here's where i'm not on very thick ice, katie, that would be a political disaster. i'm not good talking about politics. i'm better talking about the law. but it seems to me that there would be an uproar of unknown dimensions were the president to
get rid of bob mueller. >> that is exactly why we appreciate you. you talk about the law. you don't get into the politics of it. you're very clear on what you can offer and what you cannot offer and that's what makes you a great guest. frank, wrap all of this up for us. we've been talking about this for the last hour, we've got james comey interviewed by the special counsel jeff sessions, what is going to happen next? >> so clearly the special counsel inquiry is moving along at an excellent clip but i don't think anybody should have expectations that it's about to wrap. i know barbra brought up the whole russia side. let's not forget what's at the heart and that's getting to the bottom of russian meddling into our elections and i think we're going to see this year a real hard look by the special counsel at russian individuals, russian hackers who have already been identified. we talk about people who haven't
been interviewed yet. there may be some russians that are still within the purview of the special counsel in the united states that can cooperate that can talk, i would not be surprised if we see russians indicted this year by the special counsel and that component is something we just can't forget about. >> let's also not forget this all started with russia's attempt to interfere in our 2016 election and it seems like not much is being done to stop them from interfering in 2018 or 2020. this president has called this entire investigation a hoax. lots of breaking news this hour. frank, barbra and chuck, thank you guys for joining us and helping us sort it out. that will wrap things up for me. chris jan sen will pick things up right now. there's two major headlines developing right now involving the special counsel's office and its investigation into russia meddling. we are expecting reaction from the white house at this hour.
i'm chris jansen. so we've got an incredibly busy hour. nbc news learning that robert mueller met with former fbi director james comey late last year. this comes just after we learned that mueller for the first time met for hours with a member of the president's cabinet, attorney general jeff sessions, interviewed by robert mueller last week as part of his russia probe. sessions recused himself from all things russia after failing to admit he met twice with the former russian ambassador. last hour the president was asked about sessions' meeting with the special counsel. here's what he had to say. >> i'm not at all concerned. >> did you talk to him about it? >> no, i didn't but i'm not at all concerned. >> we got a fantastic team and they're ready to go. we got all angles covered from the white house to capitol hill. we want to begin with ken da lanny who is f